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VERIFY: Fact-checking what was said during the Texas gubernatorial debate

Gov. Abbott and Beto O'Rourke went head-to-head in the first and likely only gubernatorial debate Friday.

EDINBURG, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott and his challenger in November, Beto O’Rourke, faced off in a debate in the Rio Grande Valley Friday night. During the back and forth, there were claims that we set out to verify.

Border security was a major issue on the debate stage Friday night. Governor Abbott attacked challenger Beto O'Rourke early.

“Beto wants to continue open border policies," said Abbott.

Our source to verify is Beto O'Rourke's own campaign website. O'Rourke has a plan that includes investing "in border enforcement that actually works." He also supports more legal pathways to citizenship and a guest worker program. So we can verify Abbott's claim is false. O'Rourke does not support open borders.

O'Rourke accused the governor of policy failures at the border including Operation Lonestar.

“Four billion dollars into Lonestar, we're seeing more encounters not fewer," O'Rourke said.

Our sources here: The governor's office and Customs and Border Protection.

Per the governor, he's invested $4 billion dollars in Operation Lonestar.  And CBP confirms border crossings are higher this year than in previous years dating back to 2019.

So we can verify O'Rourke's claim is true.

Abbott also claimed there was a "record amount of fentanyl coming across our border."

Our source on this one is Customs and Border Protection data. CBP reports seizing more than 12,900 pounds of fentanyl this fiscal year.  That is a new record, compared to just 2,800 pounds in 2019.

We can verify that is true. How many people it could kill is not verifiable.

O’Rourke pushed the governor on taking action after the Uvalde shooting. That's when Abbott made this claim.

"You cannot raise the age to buy an assault rifle because it’s not constitutional," he said. 

This we can verify is false. A federal appeals court in Texas ruled that the State of Texas cannot ban adults under 21 from carrying handguns, not AR-15s. And the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the issue.

O'Rourke attacked the governor on the issue of rape.

"FBI data shows Texas does have more rapes than any other state in the U.S.," he said.  

But when you adjust for population, Texas ranks 15th in the country. So O’Rourke's claim is true but needs important context.

Finally, Abbott claimed O'Rourke is for defunding the police. 

This we can verify is false, but needs context. Yes, O'Rourke alluded to redirecting police funding in a 2020 podcast but did not specifically call for defunding the police. O'Rourke's website calls for ensuring law enforcement agencies have everything they need to bring justice to victims.

During the debate, our team was verifying claims made by the candidates.

CLAIM: Gov. Abbott says Beto O'Rourke supports open borders


O’Rourke’s campaign website includes a plan for immigration that includes investing, “in border enforcement that actually works. That means more smart technology like sensors, surveillance towers, and drones that can detect crossings between ports of entry and help enforcement authorities carry out arrests.”

He does support more legal pathways to citizenship and a new guest worker program along with additional processing capacity to “more efficiently screen migrants for asylum eligibility, run criminal background checks, and quickly deport anyone who is here illegally or who poses a threat to our country.”

Source: O’Rourke campaign website: https://betoorourke.com/issue/border-immigration

CLAIM: O’Rourke claims Operation Lone Star has cost $4 billion but there has been more crossing.


Governor Abbott has taken action to secure the border. Those actions included securing $4 billion in funding for Texas' border security efforts. Border crossings were higher this year than previous years dating back to 2019. However, crossings have dropped below last year's numbers this June - present. 

CLAIM: O’Rourke says Texas ranks last in access to mental health care.

Needs context 

This claim needs context. A 2022 report from Mental Health America ranks Texas as last in the nation for access to mental health care – but there are limitations to the report, like it’s based on 2019 data. Additionally, other sources rank Texas higher in areas related to mental health care access.

The Household Pulse Survey, a survey conducted this year by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and U.S. Census Bureau, shows that Texas ranked No. 15 out of U.S. states for people who needed counseling or therapy but did not get it in the last month.

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) also published an analysis of 2019-2020 data and found that Texas ranked among the top 10 states with the lowest percentage of adults who reported an unmet need for mental health treatment at No. 7.


CLAIM: A new gun law signed by Abbott allows people to carry guns in public without a background check

Needs context

A permitless carry law signed by Abbott last year does allow people over 21 to carry firearms in public places that don’t prohibit weapons.

That law, HB 1927, does not require training or a permit. However, people still need to pass a federal background check to buy firearms from stores and all other federally-licensed firearm dealers. Background checks are not required for private sellers.


CLAIM: O’Rourke says Texas leads the nation in rape offenses

True but needs context

It is true that the most recent and complete FBI data from 2020 shows Texas has more rapes than any other state with 13,509 in 2020.

However, Texas is the 2nd most populous state. If you adjust for population, Texas ranks 15th with 46 rapes for every 100,000 residents. No. 1 is Alaska with a rate of 155 per 100,000 residents.

Sources FBI Crime Data Explorer

CLAIM: Abbott says Austin defunded its police department and had record murders the following year

Needs context

The phrase “defund” is vague. It’s true that Austin cut $140 million from its police department’s budget in 2020, about 1/3.  

Austin saw 73 murders in 2021. That’s the highest number available. Austin crime data only dates back to 2003. However, 2020 saw 42 murders, which was also higher than usual.


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